Coach of rhythmic gymnastics team denies abuse

Emmanuela Maccarani, the technical director and coach of the Rhythmic Gymnastics Butterflies.

ROME – A decision is expected about the future of Emmanuela Maccarani, the technical director of the rhythmic gymnastics Butterflies team, who has been under scrutiny after reports of abuse by past gymnast whistleblowers, Il Fatto Quotidiano reported Wednesday. Maccarani claims that all the gymnasts accusing her were, “the ones who never made it to the Olympics,” and denies any allegations of abuse whatsoever.

 Maccarani says she has been painted as "the villain of the story" and for this reason the federal gymnastics group, Federginnastica (FIG), will have no choice but to “send her away.” She is being investigated by the Monza prosecutor's office on charges of mistreatment together with her assistant Olga Tishina. 

 On Thursday, the federal council will meet to decide whether to renew the contracts of the two coaches. It would be the first concrete consequence of the allegations of abuse and psychological harassment that began with the stories of Anna Basta and Nina Corradini, two gymnasts who trained for a long time at the academy in Desio, under Maccarani’s coaching.

 Maccarani responds to the serious claims, “The accusations? They all come from gymnasts who have not been to the Olympics, as chance would have it.” She adds, “You get to the national team by following a path and respecting the canons: the sport is for everyone, but the high level is not.”

 Change the Game, a voluntary organisation chaired by Daniela Simonetti committed to protecting athletes from sexual, emotional and physical violence and abuse, replied to her incendiary comments, “but everyone has the right to see their psycho-physical health protected whatever the sporting world demands. Everyone has the right to defend themselves with the claims they deem most appropriate, but the truth is demonstrated in the courtroom and we confidently await for justice to take its course.”

 The proceedings in Monza court are still in the preliminary investigation stage, and on the sports justice front, the federal prosecutor's office has already requested a referral for Maccarani and Tishina. The accusation is that of having adopted “training methods that do not comply with the duties of fairness and professionalism, putting psychological pressure and causing some gymnasts to develop eating and psychological disorders.”

 The FIG decided to convene an emergency council meeting as soon as possible, as early as Jan 12. The contracts of Maccarani and her assistant were extended by one month after they were due to expire at the end of 2022. Now, however, the federation is at a crossroads: annual renewal or farewell. 

 The decision is rushed by impending sporting commitments: in August there are the World Championships in Valencia, decisive for the Butterflies who still must qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics. Returning to the judicial front, Coni president, Giovanni Malagò, and the general prosecutor for sport, Ugo Taucer, will be in court in Milan on Wednesday to sign and present, together with chief prosecutor Marcello Viola, a memorandum of understanding on cases of violence against the person committed by sportsmen in the sporting sphere.

 However, Maccarani, interviewed by the Corriere della Sera, denies any accusation and even speaks of "a media bias" behind the case that has invested rhythmic gymnastics. "There is a new sensitivity towards body shaming, bullying, abuse, verbal violence. And there are those who felt they were making an investment out of it.” said the coach. She adds, “I have read identical phrases in the gymnastics scandal in Switzerland and the USA [names such as] piggy, you are fat... Phrases that I have never uttered.”

 Faced with the malaise described by several athletes in reference to the academy of Desio, Maccarani immediately goes on to defend, "If we get [successful] results and they are repeated over time with different gymnasts, the gymnasts must be well. Sometimes it can happen that one [athlete] does not reach the Olympics.”

 Anna Basta, the first of Maccarani’s gymansts to complain garnered a response from the coach who said, “The problem [with Anna Basta] was not the kilos, it was the technique. The Olympics are done in groups of five and she was the sixth.” And again, “Anna didn't want to do gymnastics anymore and brought the conflicts in her family with her. She needed an alibi.”

 The coach moves on to the case of Giulia Galtarossa: "The accusations? They all come from gymnasts who have not been in the Olympics, as it happens. Galtarossa, the one who claims I said, ‘we have a piglet in the team,’ became my assistant in 2013: she did the weigh-in until Rio.”

 Earlier Maccarani had denied that there was an obsession with weight, saying that “there has never been a collective weight ritual.” The technical director does not rule out that the envy of other coaches at Coni is also behind the case. She concludes by defending her results, “There is a school, there is a method, we have been winning for twenty years. It's not trivial at all. You get the emotions out, you feel them. I have never mistreated anyone.”


Rhythmic Gymnastics team, “Farfalle”